Calvin Johnston of Olathe is an unlikely poster boy for Arkansas' claim of national fame as a trophy trout state. When he showed up to go trout fishing on the White River last February, he brought a bass rod and a reel spooled with 15-pound test line - hardly the kind of equipment trout fishermen typically use. "I'm more of a bass fisherman," Johnston said. "I had never fished seriously for trout. But my brother and his friends asked me to go with them, so I did."
The first part of the day was hardly spectacular. Wading the river, Johnston only caught one small rainbow. After a break, he decided to go again but found that his waders were frozen. So he fished off the bank behind the Rainbow Drive Resort where the group was staying. That's where he caught a brown trout so big that the nation took notice. He landed a 38-pound, 7-ounce brown trout - the biggest ever recorded on the White River and the third-largest ever caught in Arkansas.
That catch fortifies Arkansas' reputation as one of the best trophy brown trout states in the nation. Well-known fisheries, such as the White, the Little Red, the North Fork, and the tailwaters below Beaver Lake, have produced some eye-opening catches over the years. Howard "Rip" Collins set the Arkansas state record in 1992 when he landed a 40.4-pound brown trout. That fish stood as the world record for a while, but has since been broken. Mike Manley of North Little Rock, Ark., also made waves when he landed a 38.9-pound brown on the North Fork River in 1988. Fisheries biologists say there are still monstrous browns out there. "It's not unusual for us to see fish in the 30- to 33-inch range when we're sampling," said Christy Graham, trout management supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.